The son and daughter-in-law of Doña Rosa, as well as four of their sons and three daughters-in-law, respectfully carry on her legacy. Both their debt to her and their success are immediately apparent in the boldly displayed sign “Alfarería Doña Rosa” that cannot be missed as one approaches the pueblo of San Bartolo Coyotepec. In their workshop and beautifully designed display area on a grand patio surrounding a courtyard, the family creates and exhibits a vast range of primarily decorative, reasonably-priced pieces. Styles range from the traditional to more contemporary. Each member of the family, or couple, exhibits his or her work in one section of the grand showroom. However, this is not obvious since individual works are not identified as such. It was not until we had visited their workshop many times and inquired about personal styles that we came to identify these differences.
Doña Rosa Real Mateo
Doña Rosa, who died in 1980, is a giant in Oaxacan ceramics. Despite her diminutive size, she was renowned for her expertise in creating beautiful forms and applying quartz to the clay before firing. This resulted in a brilliant and intense black surface, in contrast to the previously dull gray appearance of the utilitarian ceramics of this pueblo. A petite powerhouse of a woman, she sat on the ground on a “petate” (a woven straw mat) next to her “wheel,” two gray ceramic saucers placed back to back, a method pre-dating the Spanish conquest. Without a wasted movement, she fashioned graceful shapes out of clay, as inspired ideas flowed through her fingers in a seemingly endless stream.
(The late) Don Valente Nieto Real (Doña Rosa’s son)
Don Valente’s signature pieces were vases, jugs, candleholders and miniatures. Despite the introduction of many creative elements, Don Valente prided himself on perpetuating the fundamentals of his mother’s work until his death in June, 2010. He went to the Cerro del Coyote (hill of the coyote) on burro to collect the necessary clay. He utilized the pre-Hispanic method of placing one convex plate upon another, back to back, and spinning them in a manner comparable to a potter’s wheel to form pots. Finally, he used a primitive oven run by burning wood.
Doña Rafaela Castillo Cardozo (Don Valente’s wife)
Doña Rafaela creates graceful female figures, some of whom hold white flowers while others display regional costumes. She also prides herself upon producing an array of animals (especially
cats and birds), masks and vases. While always remaining faithful to the basic methods of Doña Rosa, Doña Rafaela’s family is forever working to perfect their technique and to develop new style elements. She particularly enjoys studying nature and incorporating what she sees in her pieces.
Erasmo Nieto Castillo and his wife Rita Rocío Andrés Calderón (son and daughter-in-law of Don Valente)
Erasmo and his wife Rita Rocío Andrés Calderón specialize in decorative surfaces that are a blend of shiny quartz and matte finishes used on vases, small animals and candleholders. Erasmo and Rocío also have a collection of graceful modern configurations with purely shiny surfaces that can be used for specific purposes (such as vases for dried flowers) or simply to provide visual pleasure. In addition, they create traditional pieces such as vases with pre-Hispanic designs and trees of life.
Jorge Nieto Castillo and his wife Alejandrina Galán Morga (son and daughter-in-law of Don Valente)
This couple specializes in innovative methods of decorating pieces in shiny black pottery: cut-outs, engraved pieces of pewter that are superimposed on the ceramic work, and gold leaf decorative paint. Metal decorations, introduced in 1995, are applied to many types of pieces, such as pots, vases, boxes and small animals. Their signature pieces are candleabras, vases, trees with birds, turtles and birds.
Javier Nieto Castillo and his wife María Mota (son and daughter-in-law of Don Valente)
Javier and Maria’s specialties are jewelry boxes decorated with engraving or cut-outs, vases, and jars. They are also known for their masks, small animals and busts.
Fernando Nieto Castillo (son of Don Valente)
The youngest of Don Valente’s sons, Fernando works in ceramics part-time. In addition to his vases with huge handles and his elephants, he assists all family members, and most particularly his mother, in decorating their pieces. He is especially talented in “drawing,” a technique similar to engraving designs, and in creating cut-outs.